More Bad News on the Motherhood Penalty

A new study that evaluates the motherhood penalty, or the average wages women lose over their career after they become mothers, reveals that low-income lose again and women who enjoy family friendly benefits aren’t usually mothers. Via today’s New York Times Economix blog:

In a startling new look at the “motherhood penalty,” however, two sociologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Michelle J. Budig and Melissa J. Hodges, show that mothers with lower earnings suffer the biggest percentage loss in hourly wages…Women with lower earnings are more likely to cycle in and out of jobs, forced to quit if child-care arrangements fall through or they experience a family health crisis. This employment instability tends to lower their hourly wages and may also lead employers to be wary of hiring them.

And for high-earning women:

One cruel aspect of policies in this country is that, as Professor Budig and Ms. Hodges put it, “high-earning childless women hold the most family-friendly jobs” — those with paid family leaves, sick days and vacation time…These “supermoms” are often in super jobs (and are able to hire super nannies). The other 95 percent of mothers pay a penalty that increases their economic vulnerability.

The article aptly notes that our very own Ann Friedman has previously pointed out that a vote for Palin’s Mama Grizzlies is a vote against family-friendly policies. But despite the ousting of democratic elected officials, I am still optimistic that help is on the way. Late last week there was a lot of buzz on the Internets reminding folks about the $50 million State Paid Leave Fund. This policy would focus on getting family leave in the hands of middle-class and low-income families that need it, not just high-earning families. Another thing to be excited about is last week’s release of  the Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women Report. The executive summary lays out nicely some of the economic reinforcements that the Obama Administration has aimed at low-income. I am hopeful that these research efforts will ensure that the plight of low-income women will remain in policy discourses and that the result will ultimately be more resources, more opportunities and most of all, less discrimination.

Join the Conversation

  • Reni

    I am discovering that the “motherhood penalty” kicks in before a child even arrives. I am 5 months pregnant and have been desperately trying to find work. I am now moving out of my field (I have an MA in Counseling and do DV and SA work), desperate to pay my bills, hoping that an hourly retail employer will hire me. *sigh*

  • Shannon Drury

    Thanks for posting this, and thank you for your optimism at the end. For all the media noise about the Mommy Wars, it’s easy to forget that in American today, “choices” to balance work and family are available to very few.

  • Jason

    I’d like to understand this perspective a little more (as a man in the corporate world).

    Setting aside the fact that parental responsibilities tend to fall more on women than men (which is an issue in itself) – how is it that someone, regardless of gender, who prioritizes family life over work life be expected to be compensated the same as someone who is willing to make (sometimes very big) sacrifices in favor of their career?

    Again – I understand that this issue affects women disproportionately, but I feel that has more to do with how parental responsibilities are unevenly distributed. If a man prioritized family life over work how can they be rewarded as much as someone who is willing to make those sacrifices on the corporate altar?

    Turning the perspective around – if you were someone who was willing to sacrifice seeing your kids ballgame in order to get that presentation looking just that much better – shouldn’t you be expected to reap the financial rewards?

  • Matt

    Jason: The problem here is that what is good for businesses and “efficient working” is not always good for the well-being of workers and future generations. A business profits from having a dedicated regularly-working block of employees (a stable supply of workers means: having less risk of needing to replace a bunch of employees in a pinch, being able to call on those workers to contribute lots of work hours per week means fewer workers to supply benefits for, and having those workers for lots of years means less training/orienting to get new workers up to speed), but workers usually benefit from being able to pursue other goals outside of their jobs, and children usually benefit from having parents who are around to support them. And sort of the irony for corporations is if that they are permitted to have their way, then the workers are likely to wear down over time (which will slowly hurt those same corporations) and they will probably not raise as productive or well-adjusted children, whom the businesses will count on in the future and will yield suboptimal results.

    One perhaps cannot fault corporations for looking after their own interests, but perhaps we could stand to have measures that protect the workers’ interests. It may be one thing to miss your kid’s ballgame to get that big presentation ready, but if you are missing your kid’s ballgames to get each week’s presentation ready, that may be putting your job ahead of your kid — which is morally problematic.

    We have to take a serious look at the economics parents face and consider what they (generally) need in order to be good parents. It may be necessary for the government to either businesses to allow parents reasonable opportunities to tend to their children, or the government needs to offer the necessary support itself.

  • Julie H

    We are students in a Women’s Studies class conducting research on feminist perspectives in blogs. Our assignment is to choose a topic and find relevant blog posts in order to relate our findings to ideas we have learned about in class. We found this post and comments about the post to be very interesting as our area of focus is on motherhood and the role of the working mother. It is great to be able to use this blog post in our presentation to explain the impact that having children has on some women’s careers.